The AI Genie Is Out Of The Bottle: Is This The Tip Of The Spear For Law Firms?

Legal News & Analysis - Asia Pacific - Regulatory & Compliance

1 May, 2016


The AI Genie Is Out Of The Bottle: Is This The Tip Of The Spear For Law Firms?


Aparna Bundro, Business Development and Communications specialist and former lawyer, comments on whether AI robots may be the next inflection point in the legal industry after NewLaw, and considers the extent to which law firms will be inclined to invest in AI robots.  

As evolutionary beings, we are constantly looking for ways to extend ourselves, to rewire and upscale our abilities, and artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a big part of our modern reality, and what some call trans-humanism. 

Whether AI brings to mind Kubrick, the Internet of Things or Smartapps, the applications of the technology are endless.

But what does this mean for lawyers? Well, for those with their heads in the sand, probably not a lot. But for the tech-savvy maverick practitioners, who welcome the opportunity to ‘change lanes’ every once in a while, AI in a legal universe can bring more opportunities than threats. 

ROSS is a digital legal expert, which is based on cognitive computing and was created following the success of IBM’s Watson. It is currently being used by Berwin Leighton Paisner, Dentons and Riverview, and Latham & Watkins are currently test-driving the ‘bot. The robot is capable of mining vast canyons of data, citing answers with references and authorities, and providing natural answers to questions asked. The ‘super intelligent attorney’ can also scan the law for changes - which can both positively and negatively affect a case. 

The advantages to deploying AI robots in law firms are clear; they save time, conduct searches devoid of human error and, given their efficiency, reduce the high price-point that clients are confronted with. The way the robot is wired also enables it to learn on the job, so the more lawyers use it, the ‘smarter’ it gets. 

But what else can AI robots do and to what extent will law firms be inclined to invest in them in the near future? They can be used to sift through swathes of data for the purposes of due diligence, they can short-list relevant facts and formulate persuasive arguments. Importantly, they are designed and being commissioned by law firms to enhance and augment human reasoning. They can navigate increasingly complex webs of regulatory laws in seconds with terrific accuracy. For (mostly junior) workhorses who dread the prospect of menial tasks like data mining for e-discovery, ROSS can do all the heavy lifting. ROSS can answer questions about bankruptcy law and provide tech-assisted review. In addition, online dispute resolution through the use of AI has staggering untapped potential, in the context of risk evaluation, predictive outcome analysis, negotiation strategies and mediation. 

The question is: will the adoption of AI in law firms signal what Susskind calls, ‘The End of Lawyers'? For some, because AI is not capable of creative and independent thought, these robots are not yet able to work on a self-governing or unaided basis. Further, these super intelligent attorneys cannot uphold the rule of law or dispense justice; so human lawyers will not become redundant (any time soon.) In addition, ROSS’ ability to interpret data is also still relatively nascent, so the concern that lawyers will become obsolete due to automation is, arguably premature. Importantly, what ROSS does not yet have is the social capital that comes with years of legal experience. Further, it is not yet able to weigh the significance of evidence.

But what if ROSS is just the tip of the iceberg – or spear (depending which way you look at it)? Will a robot’s ability to become smarter over time obviate the need for first and second year associates – or lawyers’ altogether? Initially, once robots are installed, they will almost certainly have a marked effect on the structure and hierarchy of law firms – but will there even be a need for human lawyers in the post-millenial or what some call the iGen generation?

Already the pace of technology has vastly accelerated over the last 5 – 10 years with new software tools revolutionising the way we conduct legal research and the way we draft agreements through intuitive and predictive programmes. Why? Mainly because BigLaw has given way to NewLaw, making structural paradigms more client-centric, and this in turn, has led to a market for competition drubbing technology. When one thinks of AI’s potential effectiveness and expediency, it makes sense that the first ones out of the gate to leverage the robot’s cost effectiveness will be large law firms for the obvious economies of scale. From a client’s perspective, robots will certainly be seen as an attractive alternative option given the significant knock-on effect on billing and, thus savings.

And with NewLaw what it is today, any firm that can differentiate itself is in a position to undercut the competition. An AI robot, while expensive in terms of an initial outlay, will eventually rein in massive returns on investment.

The key will be to view ROSS (or any of its future incarnations) as a way to free up a lawyer’s time to focus on legal reasoning and advising clients on more bespoke work. And when viewed in this way, arguably, lawyers will want to harness the services AI can offer and will welcome the help.


This article was first published in The In-House Community -



For more information, please contact:


Aparna Bundro CMO, Legi-Slate Ink

[email protected]